Waves plugins have been around since 1992 when the company first introduced its Q10 Paragraphic EQ. The Q10 broke new technological ground as the first audio plugin ever, with sound quality comparable to, or better than, its hardware equivalents. Over the course of Waves’s first decade as a plugin developer, the company also produced the popular L1 Ultramaximizer, establishing a new benchmark for dynamics processing.
Today, Waves is one of the top plugin manufacturers in the industry. From analogue hardware emulations to one-of-a-kind processors, audio professionals and enthusiasts use hundreds of Waves plugins to shape their mixes. The following are some of the best and most practical effects that any engineer should include in their plugin cache.
UREI’s original 1176LN compressor/limiter is one of the most used and desired pieces of hardware ever produced. Waves offers two revisions inspired by the mid-1960s compressor, including both a “Blacky” and a “Bluey.” With attack settings as fast as 50 microseconds and the famed “all buttons in” mode, the CLA-76 is an excellent choice for in-the-box mixing. There’s also an included 50 or 60 Hz analogue hum for some added flavor, if desired!
Waves has worked very closely with API to faithfully reproduce each plugin’s hardware counterpart. The API 2500 dynamics processor is no exception, letting users carefully craft the punch and tone of their mixes with accuracy. The dual channel 2500 can be run as two mono channels with a single compressor setting. Overall, the API’s parameters are extremely musical, making it a go-to for engineers.
SSL entrusted Waves, under license, to develop a replica of their renowned 4000 G console master buss compressor. You’ve likely heard a hundred engineers talk about the compressor’s ability to “glue” elements together, which Waves’s version has sought to reproduce. Like the two previously mentioned hardware emulations, the SSL buss compressor has an optional “analogue” switch to add or remove noise generated by the devices. Try it out on a drum buss or an entire mix.
It sure seems like it, but Waves doesn’t only model fantastic compressors. There’s just a lot of them that you should consider trying yourself! As its name and look suggest, the CLA-2A is based on Teletronix’s LA-2A leaving amplifier developed in the early ’60s. Give it a go on guitar, bass, or vocals. You’ll likely find that the smooth, frequency-dependent quirks of the original unit are accurately, if not uniquely, represented by the Waves plugin.
You guessed it! Emulations of the iconic Pultec EQP-1A and MEQ-5 equalizers of the 1950s. If you’re unfamiliar, Pultecs offer the unique ability to both boost and cut a single frequency at the same time, creating a resonant shelf. By combining both the EQP-1A and the MEQ-5, you’ll have access to a full vintage, analogue EQ chain.
An absolute must-have if you frequently mix vocals. The Vocal Rider was designed to be a time-saver by adjusting a vocal’s levels automatically. By setting a target vocal level for your mix, the plugin compensates intelligently by raising or lowering the signal’s gain. It also won’t color your track at all, so you don’t have to worry about any unwanted tonal changes when applying it. Combined with traditional compression, the Vocal Rider is an extremely powerful and convenient tool.
Now in a 25th anniversary edition, the L1 is a look-ahead peak limiter and high-res re-quantizer in a single plugin. The L1 has been a mixing and mastering standard for the past two and a half decades of its lifespan. The L1’s limiting section is incredibly fast. This means that the average signal level of the material can be significantly increased without adding any audible unpleasant side effects.
If time or other issues prevent engineers from capturing multiple takes of a performance, the Waves Doubler steps in. Doubler utilizes delay and pitch modulation (chorusing) to automatically add texture and richness to a single track. It’s primarily designed with vocals in mind, but can also work on other instruments per individual taste. Waves suggests trying it on drums to achieve a flam-like effect, or on anything else to add shimmer and presence.
A good channel strip plugin should be a part of every engineer’s toolkit. SSL’s 4000-series console has one of the most incomparable tones imaginable, on which countless hits were recorded and mixed. The E-Channel’s “Black Knob” EQ section was originally developed in 1983 alongside producer George Martin (The Beatles), which has been reproduced here. The dynamics section contains a comp/limiter and gate/expander, and makeup gain is conveniently applied automatically to maintain signal level.
Waves teamed up with Abbey Road Studios to create a tape saturation plugin modeling the machine used to record many of the the 1960’s masterpieces. Users can manipulate Tape Speed, Bias, Noise, Saturation, Wow, and Flutter. Additionally, Waves modelled three tape oxide formulas which were developed by EMI during the ’60s and ’70s. Each has its own unique frequency response and harmonic distortion characteristics, so experimentation is key. Of course, many presets are included to get as close to your desired sound as quickly as possible. The J37 also features an integrated tape delay to take things even further.
There are many, many more incredible Waves plugins not mentioned here. The selection above is just a small sampling of what the company offers, or what you may find yourself reaching for most often. Waves plugins are frequently on sale, so there’s no need to feel as though they’re unattainable!
BONUS: Some Personal Favorites
- MV2 Compressor: One of the simplest ways to control the dynamic range of a sound source with an initiative, streamlined interface.
- Renaissance Bass: An easy way to tighten up the low end of bass, kick drum, 808, etc. Renaissance Bass is designed to extend perceived low frequencies up to an octave and a half.
- Renaissance Vox: Another in “R” line, this plugin is a comp/limiter & gate/expander tailored specifically to vocals. There’s no better way to control vocal dynamics and maximize output level.
- Renaissance Compressor: This is the all-around version of the previously mentioned Renaissance plugins. You can stick it on anything for great sounding, transparent, light-on-CPU results.